An admission of guilt…

09 +00002013-05-11T16:13:55+00:0031 2012 § 12 Comments

Loyal retainers
How time changes our attitudes!

My husband’s father had a rather posh employer, a titled aristocrat with a substantial estate in the south of England; his ancestors genuinely did arrive with William the Conqueror – he had (still has) the family tree and the lands (albeit diminished over the centuries) to prove it.

My father-in-law was an absolutely loyal retainer of the old school. Totally committed to the ‘big house’, he would brook no criticism of its inmates. His children were of a different mould. They looked across the class divide that separated the aristocrat’s mansion and the pretty tied cottage where they lived more surely than if there had been a ten-foot fence between them and, as well-educated young people of the sixties, viewed their neighbours with amiable scepticism.

When we were married, perhaps more out of a sense of duty to a loyal servant than a genuine regard for his child, the aristocrat and his wife (also from a titled family) presented us with a set of eighteen tumblers. They were tinted a smoky grey, fashionable for glassware then. My husband, a principled opponent of the landed classes, laughed with some cynicism when he saw them, because they bore a very close resemblance to the glasses that were being given away as part of a well-known petrol promotion of the time, though the glasses did come packaged in a box bearing the logo of a local department store. My own reaction, unused to the aristocracy as I was, was one of astonishment that anyone could think that a couple starting life with only the meagre collection of mismatched cups and plates that they had gathered as students could possibly have need of eighteen of anything!

But of course we did use the tumblers. And continued to use them over the decades. Unloading the dishwasher the other day, I realised that only three of them are now left, scarred and pitted, loyal old servants who have borne witness to many years of family life and always been stalwart in their duty. They have obliged as water glasses at both family suppers and more festive dinners; held my son’s breakfast milk when he outgrew his feeding-cup; done service at children’s parties once plastic beakers were rejected as too babyish; been used to mix Lem-sip, stomach powders and other medicines; hosted the occasional late-night whisky and even been pressed into tasks beyond normal expectations: singly, they have stood in as a makeshift vase for a solitary torn-off rose, a storage receptacle for leftovers, a pot for germinating seeds.

And so it turns out that this once rather naughtily despised present has become more a part of the everyday fabric of our lives than almost anything else that we own and certainly more than any of the other wedding presents that we received. Coming over sentimental, I feel inclined to retire these last three ageing retainers, and let them live out the rest of their lives – which would then, probably, equate to the rest of our lives – in peace. (I can imagine that whoever clears away our possessions when we’ve ‘passed on’ will get rid of these three precipitately.) However, when I remember my father-in-law, who served with pride and continued to serve until his death, aged seventy-five, I think perhaps that, if they could speak, these glasses would tell me that they don’t want to be relegated to the top of the cupboard and left, literally, on the shelf. Like old soldiers, they will want to carry on until, one by one, they disappear.

We are both, my husband and I, very much aware of our early crime of ingratitude and quite probably of injustice to the actual sentiments of the givers, who may never discover just how attached to these incredibly loyal retainers we are, nor (irony of ironies) that their nephew and our son followed the same course at university together, without knowing each other’s origins.

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§ 12 Responses to An admission of guilt…

  • Julia says:

    You made me both smile and cringe.
    I also have wedding gifts that were a source of amusement at the time, back in 1981, but which have served me well during the last 32 years.
    I recall a bright orange casserole dish, given to me by my mother in law (now long-deceased), which I was too ‘precious’ to use when we had guests but which, when divorce loomed, The Ex and I squabbled over in quite a childish manner because it had been a gift from someone who we’d both adored..I finally surrendered it because she had been his mother, not mine, alas..

    • The passage of time does strange things to us! Thank you, Julia, for visiting and for sharing a very personal anecdote. Weddings produce what seem to be very inappropriate gifts at the time, but which become unexpectedly, unpredictably, important to us. We get a different perspective over the years!

  • If we have a bit of a clear-out, it is usually the more recent stuff that gets taken to Oxfam. Two reasons — who would want to buy our junk? and also, our ‘junk’ are beloved old friends, which I do not want others to despise! These items include presents. When we married sixty years ago, my mother was a cleaner for the wife of a highly paid director. I was really pleased to receive a rug for our bedsit. We kept it until the thing was in holes. But we have quite a few things from all those years ago in constant use or used on special occasions. Having said this, I must admit I ‘let go’ of certain things given to us over the years that were neither use no ornament!
    I have to admit I was unhappy to find in a charity shop a picture I gave to someone about twenty years ago. It was a piece of my own work and framed by my hubby. My name was written in small letters in the right hand corner.
    I bought the picture and took it home!

    • Gladys, you are clearly advanced in sorting skills and have powerful discrimination – you clearly do not suffer from the ‘hoarding’ syndrome! 😉 It is interesting to see evidence of the attitudes of others to those things which are dear to us, even if they are not pleasing! What people are prepared to buy, however, is astonishing, as my son discovered as a teenager when he gathered ‘junk’ up and took it to a car boot sale; I thought, for example, that no-one would ever buy our old Hoover Constellation (those round ones!), but it worked and… it sold! He was well pleased, of course, and so was I that there was still a lease of life left.

  • carol hedges says:

    We have inherited, though not as a wedding present, a writing bureau from Martyn’s parents. It is in an old fashioned style, with lots of little ‘secret’ drawers and pull out segments. I believe his mum was given it as a wedding present from her father, a very stern headmaster. There are so many memories associated with it that although it is not to my taste, I cherish it for his sake. I may add that DD took one look and has already ‘claimed’ it – fashions in furniture skip generations, like fashions in clothes.

    • Don’t you just love the acquisitive eye of offspring! I’m just glad that the next generation values at least some of the things that we care about, or that our parents cared about. It is a way of linking the generations as a family legacy and, you’re right, changing fashions alternately bring the possessions in and out of love. 🙂

  • Hap says:

    Who knows at first glance what will be lost or tossed, and what will become irreplaceable, or at least filled with memories. Well told tale, thank you.

  • vallypee says:

    I found this post very moving. It is odd how things acquire value through their accumulated history in the family, but I suppose it’s just human nature. I loved this “I think perhaps that, if they could speak, these glasses would tell me that they don’t want to be relegated to the top of the cupboard and left, literally, on the shelf. Like old soldiers, they will want to carry on until, one by one, they disappear.” It says it all, really.

    • This post has obviously touched a chord with many people and has, by a long way, outstripped the rest of my posts in terms of the number of visits and shares. I suppose that all bloggers (You know, I hate this term and prefer to use ‘wordwrights’! 😉 ) quest after the holy grail of the popular post, but I didn’t foresee the interest it would create. Looking at it, I suppose that there is a human interest in it and, dare I say, more than a touch of sentimentality! Does it say more about me or my readers, I wonder? I’m trying to bottle it, this magic, because it might influence my novels in the future!
      As always, I find your comments warm, supportive and very, very kind. Thank you.

  • Jo Carroll says:

    My godmother was born ‘downstairs’ in a big house – her aunt was in service and her mother, with a husband away at sea, went to her sister’s to give birth.

    She was tiny when she was born, frail, and not expected to live. And so my aunt gathered her courage, went upstairs to ask for a tot of brandy to keep the baby alive … she’s nearly 93 now, but hates brandy!! Another legacy, of sorts?

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